Friday, May 3, 2013

Team of experts say humanity faces extinction - A team of mathematicians, philosophers and scientists at Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute say there is ever-increasing evidence that the human race’s reliance on technology could, in fact, lead to its demise. The group argues that we face a real risk to our own existence. And not a slow demise in some distant, theoretical future. The end could come as soon as the next century.
"There is a great race on between humanity’s technological powers and our wisdom to use those powers well. I’m worried that the former will pull too far ahead."
There’s something about the end of the world that we just can’t shake. Even with the paranoia of 2012 Mayan prophecies behind us, people still remain fascinated by the potential for an extinction-level event. And popular culture is happy to indulge in our anxiety. This year alone, two major comedy films are set to debut (“The World’s End” and “This is the End”), which take a humorous look at the end-of-the-world scenarios.
Interestingly, well-known threats, such as asteroids, supervolanic eruptions and earthquakes are not likely to threaten humanity in the near future. Even a nuclear explosion isn’t likely to wipe out the entire population; enough people could survive to rebuild society. “Empirical impact distributions and scientific models suggest that the likelihood of extinction because of these kinds of risk is extremely small on a time scale of a century or so." Instead, it’s the unknown factors behind innovative technologies that pose the greatest risk going forward.
Machines, synthetic biology, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence could become our own worst enemy, if they aren’t already, “threats we have no track record of surviving." "We are developing things that could go wrong in a profound way. With any new powerful technology we should think very carefully about what we know – but it might be more important to know what we don't have certainty about."
However, it’s not all bad news. While a lack of understanding surrounding new technology posts huge risks, it does not necessarily equate to our downfall. “The Earth will remain habitable for at least another billion years. Civilization began only a few thousand years ago. If we do not destroy mankind, these few thousand years may be only a tiny fraction of the whole of civilized human history. It turns out that the ultimate potential for Earth-originating intelligent life is literally astronomical.”

**Habits start out as cobwebs
and grow to be cables.**
Spanish proverb


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Volcano Webcams

Australian volcano Big Ben rumbling again as NASA images reveal lava lake. New NASA photo reveals the lava lake on Australia's only active volcano has overflowed the crater, showing possible signs of eruption. Big Ben is located on the remote Heard Island.


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Fire forces evacuation of campus, homes in California - Dry winds caused humidity to drop from 80% to single figures in an hour.
One of several wildfires raging in California temporarily closed a section of the state's coastal highway. Fanned by strong winds, the blaze ravaged hillsides and canyons in Ventura County near Los Angeles, threatening homes around two towns. A 10-mile (16-km) section of the Pacific Coast Highway was closed for a while just west of Malibu because of the Camarillo Springs blaze. California State University at Channel Islands cancelled classes due to smoke. Hundreds of firefighters are tackling the fire, which was sparked during the Thursday morning rush hour.
Planes dropped water and retardant to protect properties, but were temporarily grounded as winds gusted to 50mph (80km/h). The Santa Ana winds fanned the blaze and blew clouds of dark smoke over homes and strawberry fields to the south. More than 6,500 acres (2600 ha) have been burned, and a cluster of motor homes were charred by the flames. "It's unbelievable. It's this huge monster."
It is one of several infernoes in the state that have already destroyed several homes and scorched thousands of acres. About 100 miles east of Camarillo, four houses were razed in a fire in Jurupa Valley. A primary school was also evacuated. In the San Bernardino Mountains, near Banning, crews tackled a fire through the night. After ruining a home on Wednesday, it was 40% contained, but fire officials said renewed winds could slow progress. About 700 firefighters and aircraft were fighting that blaze. Several smaller fires have also been reported in northern parts of California.
Roaring winds may fuel raging California wildfire today - Crews frantically battling fast-moving wildfires in Southern California will get no relief today as heavy winds threaten to grow one blaze that has scorched thousands of acres.

While large areas of the U.S. this spring zigged and zagged through all kinds of extreme weather, including RECORD SNOWSTORMS, RECORD COLD, RECORD HEAT and RECORD FLOODING last month, Vermont continued to muddle through in April with weather that was very close to normal.


CHANCE OF FLARES - NOAA forecasters have raised the odds of an M-class solar flare today to 45%. There are at least two sunspots capable of producing such an eruption: AR1730 and AR1731. Sunspot AR1731 is located near the center of the solar disk, so any eruptions from that one will be Earth-directed.
As the odds of a flare on the Earthside of the sun tick upward, flares on the farside of the sun are already underway. Yesterday, an active region located behind the sun's eastern limb hurled a plume of red-hot debris into space. Venus could receive a glancing blow from the electrified cloud today. Next week, Earth will enter the line of fire as the sun's rotation turns the active region toward our planet.


Lab-made H5N1-H1N1 viruses spread in guinea pigs - Chinese scientists report that lab-generated hybrid viruses combining genes from avian H5N1 and pandemic 2009 H1N1 (pH1N1) influenza viruses can achieve airborne spread between guinea pigs, a finding that seems likely to renew the debate about the risks of creating novel viruses that might be able to spark a human pandemic.

H7N9 gene tree study yields new clues on mixing, timing - The most detailed genetic analysis so far of H7N9 viruses that have infected humans in China shed more light on how the virus may have emerged -- a complex set of events that could have involved mixing between wild and domestic ducks and reassortment in poultry.
Three deaths lift China's H7N9 fatality count to 27 - Three more people in China have died from severe respiratory infections from the H7N9 virus, pushing the number of deaths so far to 27.

Saudi Arabia reports 7 novel coronavirus cases - Saudi Arabia's health ministry has reported that five Saudis have died of novel coronavirus (nCoV) infections in the past few days, and two more case-patients are in intensive care.